Judith Collins says she will never resign as National Party leader

Judith Collins says she will never resign as leader of the National Party and claims to have heard no "chatter" about a potential challenge.

Speculation about whether one of her caucus colleagues will attempt to roll her has been at a high in recent weeks as Collins has become embroiled in a number of mini-controversies. That includes her calling microbiolgoist Dr Siouxsie Wiles a "big, fat hypocrite", clashing with journalists, and just this week, being caught maskless in a retail store. Her former chief Press Secretary Janet Wilson has said she is prone to having "paranoid storms'' and the party is on "the brink of oblivion".

Collins has consistently rejected claims her leadership is under threat - she says some rumours are being manufactured by Labour Party activists - but adding weight to those claims is recent polling showing National down in the low-20s.

The leader said on Tuesday she wasn't worried her time at the top of the party was about to come to an end and that she had other things to think about.

"No, what I am concerned about is the Government still has not got any proper plan around COVID and they have changed from elimination to a containment strategy without anything in place to protect New Zealanders."

She claimed to have "heard no such chatter" about leadership rumbles. Newshub has though, with several MPs saying anonymously last week that former leader Simon Bridges "could easily get the numbers" and the "pressure is getting to [Collins]".

Collins also answered "no" to questions on whether she would resign if polling dropped below 20 percent or if she would ever resign as the party's leader. 

"I do not worry about things like polls because polls go up and down. Most pollsters would refuse to poll during a level 4 lockdown."

She denied that she was becoming a distraction as her party attempts to hold the Government to account during the middle of a lockdown.

"My message is very clear. Keep focused on the things that matter to New Zealanders. Keep constantly thinking about how as a National Party we can do a constantly better job of holding the Government to account."

She won't quit even if the party's poll results drop below 20 percent.
She won't quit even if the party's poll results drop below 20 percent. Photo credit: Getty Images.

One name that keeps coming up as a potential successor is Bridges, who was rolled as leader in May last year by Todd Muller, who then resigned two months later, leading to Collins' ascendancy.

Bridges is adamant he isn't seeking the role.

"It's inevitable when you have a poll that's not good that people want to talk about that and what that means," Bridges told The AM Show's Ryan Bridge last week. "But I can be categorical with you - I'm not having those conversations. I'm not talking with people about those things that you've mentioned."

Collins says she doesn't think Bridges poses a threat.

"No, he is a very positive contributor."

While Collins spent a good period of time on Tuesday being questioned over her leadership, she also spoke about her issues with the COVID-19 response, calling on the Government to admit it has given up on an elimination strategy. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that there was still zero tolerance for cases as Auckland moves to alert level 3 on Tuesday night despite still recording double-digit cases.

Collins said Kiwis are hurting. 

"I know the caucus is working very hard with a common goal of holding this Government to account but also of putting out our plans around COVID and also the plans for the economy. 

"We are very concerned that New Zealanders, and particularly small businesses, are hurting massively from this failure of Government to protect New Zealanders, failure to be able to prosecute their elimination strategy, their failure to get vaccines into the country and into people's arms, their failure to prepare for lockdowns and now we have got businesses going to the wall and that is what we are concerned with."

While the vaccine rollout started slow, it has ramped up significantly in recent months. Of the eligible population - those aged 12 and over - 38 percent are fully vaccinated, while 73 percent have had their first dose. Ardern said it's possible that by the end of the week, 80 percent of Aucklanders could have had their first jab and the 90 percent mark could be hit "over the next couple of weeks".

The Prime Minister has also said modelling shows that without the level 4 restrictions, New Zealand would currently have thousands of cases. Under alert level 3, more business activity is allowed, but most people must continue to stay at home.